Tadhg Beirne and the Leinster mistake that gets worse every season
"You can try me again in a few weeks."
Back in early April, it honest to goodness looked like Munster's goose was cooked. They were up against it in the URC and had just been dumped out of the Champions Cup. As the squad prepared to head to South Africa, I fired a message to Tadhg Beirne.
The idea was to get Beirne on for a chat about his exploits with Ireland and get a gauge for life under Graham Rowntree, during his first season as head coach at Munster. The Eadestown native politely declined but left an opening before the season was wrapped.
At this stage, the best information most of us had was Tadhg Beirne was not going to feature again in 2022/23. On February 11th, as Ireland celebrated a win over France, Beirne was pictured on the sidelines in a protective boot and Andy Farrell admitted it did not look good. It was expected that he, like Johnny Sexton, would miss out for his province, following surgery, and return in the summer to get set for the World Cup.
That could have been the plan, but his Munster teammates had other ideas and they would soon need his help.
Munster went to South Africa and revived their season. They beat Sharks and drew with Stormers to secure a place in the Champions Cup, for next season, and the URC knock-out stages. Four weeks after he had suggested he might get up to Dublin for House of Rugby, Beirne was flying to Glasgow to take on Warriors in a quarter final.
Three months after he had last lined out in a game - Ireland's thrilling home win over France - in the second row, Beirne played 80 minutes at blindside for Munster as they stunned Glasgow on their home patch. With Peter O'Mahony hobbling off injured early, in Scotstoun, Beirne was captain for most of that night, and sank 20 tackles while he was at it.
A week later and, with RG Snyman out with concussion, he went into the second row and scored a try against Leinster as Jack Crowley clinched victory with a late drop goal. Only five times in the competition's history [and various names] has a home side lost a semi-final. On three occasions, Scarlets [2017 & 2018] and Munster , Tadhg Beirne has been on the 'away' side.
If all that can be pitched into the realms of unlikely and impressive, it is simply the Tadhg Beirne story. Nothing is ever straight-forward. It is rarely anything resemble easy. It is probably why he found a perfect home at Munster.
Twists, turns and a whole load of turnovers
It was only seven and a half years ago that Leo Cullen informed Tadhg Beirne that he would not be part of Leinster's plans. It seems crazy to think of, now, but those sort of conversations happy every season at every province.
What is even more remarkable is the climb back he made after that devastating news. Not many dust themselves off and get to prove a decision to emphatically wrong.
Beirne was mid-way through a Masters [real estate] at UCD and, with few other clubs interested, he was forced to seriously consider what life would be like after rugby. He said down with his parents and told them he wanted to give it 'one more crack' at another club. He met a man called Abe Kerr, who would soon become his agent, and asked if Munster would have him, only to be told 'they were fully stocked'.
Scarlets were in need of some cover, and Beirne being able to play jerseys 4 to 8 went in his favour. He was brought over by Wayne Pivac and fate would soon intervene. He recalled:
"I then got my first opportunity at Scarlets as, two weeks on the bounce, two players [Jake Ball and Aaron Shingler] were having their first children. So I was put into the team, obviously played well and kept my position. If they hadn't had those kids, then, I probably wouldn't be sitting here today, you know!"
As we now know, Beirne was a revelation for Scarlets that season. He played 23 times and won a stack of man-of-the-match awards, and turnover ball, as the Welsh side beat Leinster at The RDS and Munster at Aviva Stadium to capture the Guinness PRO12.
He finally got that desired move to Munster in 2018. His first season at his new home, and second province, was excellent but injuries and Ireland call-ups meant he only made 24 Munster appearances over the next three seasons. His team were also running smack-bang into Leinster whenever they got the merest scent of silverware.
Tadhg Beirne and Munster get over the Leinster hump
Under Graham Rowntree, we have seen Tadhg Beirne taking on more of a leadership role. That is no massive surprise, given his abilities, temperament and the fact he is now 31.
It means a lot to the guy, though, to be considered a key driver within a squad with some many young and impressionable players. Not everyone, as we have seen over the past season, flourishes under Rowntree or can meet his demands. Beirne has taken to the added responsibility with real enthusiasm. Younger players like Thomas Ahern and John Hodnett will tell you of the help and advice he has offered. The extra reps he will do with anyone looking to stay on a while, or show up early.
All that was good and well but it was looking like another season of disappointment when Sharks put 50 points on them, on April 1, to dump them out of the Champions Cup. We then had the beginnings of 'the home-wreckers' and, after two legs away from home, Beirne joined the wrecking crew for the run-in.
"Tadhg Beirne comes back fro injury and he's across all the key areas for Munster," former Leinster star Lindsay Peat reflected. "He was just his usual self. He goes about his business, is almost under the radar but then steps up with key plays - lineouts, turnovers, tries - whenever his team most need it.
"You know when we talk about those romantic stages in life, and the love that got away? Leinster are kicking themselves they let that guy get away."
Leinster would tell you they are doing just fine with home-grown talents like James Ryan, Ross Molony and Ryan Baird. They would have been kicking themselves, no lying, when Beirne bulled over for a crucial second half try that gave Munster real belief that their opponents had made a serious error by resting big players, a week out from the Champions Cup final.
In his three games back, after three months out, Beirne played 80, 70 and 80, made 22 carries, stuck 37 tackles and made three turnovers. He is as dogged as they come and seems to thrive on smacking teams upside the head if they forget to worry about him.
Seven years after being told he was surplus to Leinster's requirements and six years after he took the first steps towards proving them wrong, Tadhg Beirne was a league champion again.
Beirne, like Keith Earls, Malakai Fekitoa and RG Snyman, would not have finished out the season on the pitch if their team did not desperately need them. The same goes for the patched-together Peter O'Mahony.
Because of his demeanour, he may go into rugby retirement with little fanfare and only a few glowing tomes.
Those that have followed him closely these past seven years, though, are fully aware of just how special his story is.
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